Many of you commented on my last post with lovely, encouraging remarks to the tune of, “I think you’re interesting!” which I really appreciated — thank you. My blogging existential crisis continues, but I have a slightly better idea of what people are expecting from me. I’m leaning more towards the idea of combining my book blog and this blog into one amalgamated mishmash, but it’ll take a little while for me to figure out the practicalities of doing that, so there’ll be some updates on that before it actually happens.
Somebody remarked in the comments of my last post that I haven’t talked about writing very much here in a while, and I guess that’s true. Although I blogged briefly about finishing To Run With The Hound, I gave virtually no details about it. I don’t know why I’d got it into my head that I’d talked more about it here. Probably because I talked more about it on other platforms, so that translated in my head to “have already told the internet this, no need to repeat”.
I also didn’t talk a huge amount about my Bard rewrite last autumn, though I mentioned it in a post that gave slightly more info about TRWTH, and again when I began working on the rewrite. This also seems like a bit of a missed opportunity, because rewriting it was a fascinating process in terms of the ideological shift the book underwent between the first and second drafts.
Like my medievalist activities, I guess I’m wary about talking about my writing when it’s new. I don’t want to say too much, because I’m oriented towards the future of that project, not its current state, and I’m aware of the gulf between the two. But I could have said a lot more about them, and maybe one day I will.
However, I have writing news!
The last time I mentioned Butterfly of Night it was because I’d just been rejected for Pitch Wars. It was my second time submitting BoN, though it had gone through some extensive rewrites, including a fair amount of new worldbuilding. I’d planned to query late last year, but couldn’t face any more rejections while lost in the unemployment void and then, once I found a job, was too busy to actually get around to it, especially because I was writing something else at the time.
At the end of February, though, I heard about a thing called Author Mentor Match, which was about to open for submissions. It’s similar to Pitch Wars, in that it’s a mentoring scheme: a more experienced writer mentors a less experienced writer through revisions of their novel. The difference is that unlike Pitch Wars, it doesn’t have an agent round / pitch contest at the end, and I think it’s slightly less competitive to get into as a result (or possibly because fewer people know about it; I’d not heard of it until I saw it was about to open).
I figured I had nothing to lose and got out my Pitch Wars synopsis and query, gave them a bit of a spruce, and sent them in. It was the first piece of writing I’d ever submitted as Finn Longman rather than Miriam Joy, and I was still halfway through changing over my social media links, so it was a weird experience filling in that online form.
A couple of days later I got a request for the full manuscript, which seemed very exciting, so I sent it in, and then… forgot about it. Completely.
Having now looked at the hashtag for AMM, I can see that a lot of people were waiting excitedly for the mentor announcements, trying to fill the time until they’d hear, biting their nails when the date approached. I was not. I had so completely forgotten about it that I was standing at a bus stop on my way home from dance and got an email and had to read it about three times before it clicked what it was referring to.
OH, I thought. I … I GOT IN! TO THE THING? THE THING! THE THING THAT I TOTALLY REMEMBERED ENTERING! THAT THING!
It took until I was waiting for my second bus that it actually clicked what this meant, so of course I spent the rest of the journey home grinning like a weirdo, not least because my mentor, Rory Power, tweeted this:
And then this:
For somebody to recognise my stabby disaster baby Isabel Ryans for the stabby disaster baby that she is, and to love her for it, is a delight. I’d slightly begun to fear this is one of those books I’d never have the nerve to do anything with, but apparently that is not the case.
So… over the next few months I will be working with Rory to revise this book. She has a deadline, so I haven’t got my edit letter yet, which gives me a bit of a grace period — but actually, this came at a fantastic time, because I’d just been reading up on Soviet closed cities and realising what a fantastic parallel they were for the closed city in this book, not least because their original function is so similar. I’d been thinking I needed to do some more edits to improve the worldbuilding based on what I’ve learned, and now I have that chance.
(Discovering that closed cities were/are a real thing should probably have come earlier in the process, but it honestly never occurred to me to look. Now I can use that when describing the book, though:
Imagine that government intelligence agencies and weapons developers set up a closed city in northern England… then declared independence and stopped pretending they were anything other than contract killers. Welcome to Espera, a city cut off from the outside world and run by assassins for nearly a century.
… and so on and so forth)
It is going to be a little strange going back to this book, though. I’ve barely looked at it since August, and I’ve found my tastes shifting even in the space of those months. It was evident in Bard that the book had a far more pacifist slant than the previous draft, and I’ve also found myself craving softer, kinder stories to read. How easy will it be to slip back into the head of Isabel Ryans, a killer raised by killers?
I’ll confess I’m haunted by a secret fear that I’ll find I can no longer stomach the violence of this story, even though I would argue that at no point does this book glorify Isabel’s behaviour or suggest that her approach solves anything, ever (it doesn’t).
I’m probably worrying unnecessarily — I’ve always found her actions uncomfortable, because that’s the whole point. Part of the question I was asking with this book was, “How bad does a character have to be before the reader stops sympathising with them?” The other question, which comes up in most of my writing, is, “Is there any such thing as beyond redemption?”
(I’m pretty sure the answers to those two questions are “very very bad, especially if their life sucks”, and “no”.)
Also, writing Isabel can’t be that different from writing Cú Chulainn in To Run With The Hound. Nothing she does is worse than what he does, especially towards the end of the book, and she arguably has way better reasons for doing it.
But, yeah, it’ll be a change of mental gears. Ideologically, from Bard, a hopeful SF novel with an underlying theme of nonviolent resistence. In terms of genre, it’s a psychological thriller set in alternate version of our own world, while the last book I wrote was To Run With The Hound, a retelling of the medieval Irish text Táin Bó Cúailnge, set in a fictional ancient past, so that’s kind of a big contrast too.
I’m looking forward to it, though. I’ve had beta readers and critique partners before, but nothing as hardcore as this kind of mentorship, and I’m hoping it’ll push me to do what I couldn’t do alone. It’s what this book needs — I’ve done what I can, but I need help before it’s really the book it’s supposed to be — and with luck, it’ll work out that way.
So that’s my writing news!
I’m also half-heartedly doing Camp NaNoWriMo this month, just to work on something plotless and fluffy I’ve had ticking over in the background (with a goal of 20k rather than 50k). So everything’s happening, writing-wise — enough to keep me occupied for a week or two off dance because I’ve sprained my ankle again…
Anyone else doing Camp NaNo or working on big writing projects? Tell me about them in the comments!